Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The Boys of Summer

Imagine this. You have to cover news 24/7, but you only have three people. The same three people. Who are only supposed to work eight-hour shifts.

This is the situation I'm faced with every day. We could go around the clock, with only one person working each 8-hour shift, but there's no point in staffing overnight because there's only about 80 people looking at the site overnight. The numbers also decrease drastically after 8 p.m. and they peak around noontime. So we staff during the high-traffic times.

Except, of course, when the Red Sox are playing. And they're in the playoffs. And then they're going to the World Series. We've been working around-the-clock schedules, switching hours, for the past three weeks, as the Sox worked their way past the Angels and then the Indians ... always going the full seven games.

Now, of course, it's the World Series and there are seven MORE games. I've had one day off in the past two weeks and will probably go in to work both days next weekend as well (which I've done the past two weekends).

Don't get me wrong. I LOVE the Red Sox, I really do. But it's insane trying to keep up with the TV news staff, which numbers over 100 people, with our three. We are burning the candles to nubs.

We livestream the news conferences, write and publish stories, and we post the locker room interview videos and we create slideshows, and really, people don't come to sites like ours for sports.

On the one hand, I always enjoy the work because (as someone in the newsroom said recently) it's not stories about dead babies. On the other hand, we all have lives and families and groceries to buy and laundry to do etc. and that doesn't get done when you're only coming home to sleep and eat and go back to work.

This is the state of the Internet at this moment in time -- do it all on a shoestring. It's only computers, right? But if they only knew the actual brainpower that's involved. Someday I hope we have enough people to do this job properly, but I'm not holding my breath.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Keeping The Balls In The Air

It's been a busy fall and we're heading into an even busier baseball post-season with the Red Sox heading into the ALCS games.

Over the past few months we had a couple of Boston firemen killed fighting a restaurant blaze. They were given what amounted to almost state funerals and we livestreamed both of them ... one lasted about three hours.

Then a few weeks later, their autopsies found a high blood alcohol level in one and traces of cocaine in the other. So that was a big story as well, and viewers did not like the fact that this information was reported at all. We received what seemed like hundreds of angry emails about it.

On one day last month, an MIT student went to Logan Airport to pick up her boyfriend wearing a circuit board strapped to her chest. She was lucky that she did not end up dead as police there surrounded her with machine guns thinking she had a bomb strapped to her chest. LIGHTS ON, NO ONE'S HOME. We did a good job getting that story up right away with a lot of background on her.

So, all that kept us very busy through much of September and now we are trying to stretch our tiny staff to cover the Sox in these playoff games, most of which take place at night.

Because I work the early shift (4:45am start time each day) the other two people on the Web staff are trading off on covering the night games and I worked last Sunday to cover one of them. Six or seven hours for a lengthy play-by-play story and added post-game videos, etc., and I don't even want to say how many page views we got. Let's just say not a lot.

As a result, we've had lots of discussions about whether we are allocating our slim resources toward something that isn't going to do much for traffic in the first place -- primarily because people are not coming to us for sports news. For that they go to ESPN or MLB.com or one of the other sites, and they do not allow us to post any of their game highlights or shoot our own, so it really limits what we can do.

There's a lot of frustration to go around and I strongly feel that we have to think outside the box to come up with some other solution -- some other way to do what we need to do. I guess what should be done at a higher level is "define" what the site should be and then be that, instead of trying to be all things to all people, because we end up being a mile wide and an inch deep (to throw one more cliche in there.)

In the meantime, we continue to try to mentor all the people who are tech-challenged. It's like a million people who all want to drive but have no idea how to turn the key. The station is trying to encourage people to blog (for instance) but as simple as using this tool is, several of them still have trouble. And there's only so many ways you can explain something. I guess the fundamental cultural thing they don't understand yet is that this is a new medium and it still has a lot of "bugs" -- stuff that needs to get worked out. They just expect that it's all always going to work all the time. There's one person who wants me to explain Blogger to him and I think I've said about 27 different ways that "it's not my tool," but he still seems to think I am personally responsible for making it work and showing him how to use it.

Well, I suppose it could be worse. I'm not cleaning sewage for a living!